Walking through Rochester, the partially filled-in Inner Loop and the abandoned remnants of a subway system speak of a long, dynamic history of transportation in our city. However, before the highways, before the subway, before even electric streetcars, there was another system of transportation that helped Rochesterians on their way: horse-drawn trolley cars.
One of these trolley cars, “Horsecar #55,” is preserved among the Rochester Museum & Science Center’s 1.2 million collection
items to safeguard the memory of Rochester as it was as early as the American Civil War, 1861–1865.
The first horsecar rail was completed in Rochester in 1863, slightly later than our neighbors in Buffalo and Syracuse. Horsecar #55 was built in 1867 and could transport up to thirty passengers at a slugglish seven miles per hour.
Imagine a Ride on Horsecar #55
Now, take yourself back to 1860s Rochester and imagine you’re about to board horsecar #55. The driver pulls the lever to open the rear door for you. You climb in, put your fare in the coin slot and find a seat on the benches by the light of a kerosene lamp. The car starts at a turntable at West Avenue and Child Street and carries you east to West Main Street on to the center of the city. It turns right on South Avenue and continues to Court Street, to Washington Street, to Monroe Avenue and to Alexander Street. If the School of the Arts had existed then, you would see it as the car turned north on University Avenue and west on Main Street, back to where it began. Did you enjoy your ride?
If you were a regular passenger you would soon find that this mode of transportation has its downfalls. Privately-owned, the network is limited and exists primarily where the owners have real estate interests and during a horse disease epidemic, you might find service to your line brought to a halt.
By 1889, however, passengers like you would begin to have another option as the horsecar was phased out in favor of the electric trolley. By 1890, horsecar #55 was on its last run.
The Trolley Today
Later restored, the car today looks as good as new in its home in the RMSC collections with the other local items. We preserve these objects as pieces of our heritage and use them as appropriate in our exhibits to create a rich, localized RMSC experience. Our collections spaces are currently under renovation so that these artifacts can continue to represent our community’s history for generations to come.